Date: 18 Aug 2012

Major Depression: A Role for Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

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Since its discovery in mammals, adult neurogenesis, the process of generating functional neurons from neural progenitor cells in the adult brain, has inspired numerous animal studies. These have revealed that adult neurogenesis is a highly regulated phenomenon. Enriched environment, exercise and learning for instance, are positive regulators while stress and age are major negative regulators. Stressful life events are not only shown to reduce adult neurogenesis levels but are also discussed to be a key element in the development of various neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression. Interestingly, altered monoaminergic brain levels resulting from antidepressant treatment are shown to have a strong reinforcing effect on adult neurogenesis. Additionally, disturbed adult neurogenesis, possibly resulting in a malfunctioning hippocampus, may contribute to the cognitive deficits and reduced hippocampal volumes observed in depressed patients. Hence, the question arises as to whether disturbed adult neurogenesis and the etiopathogenesis of depression are causally linked. In this chapter, we discuss the possible causal interrelation of disturbed adult neurogenesis and the etiopathogenesis of depression as well as the possibility that adult neurogenesis is not exclusively linked to depression but is also linked to other psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, we look at the functional relevance of adult neurogenesis in different species, upon which we base our discussion as to whether adult neurogenesis could be causally linked to the development of certain brain disorders in humans, or whether it is only an epiphenomenon.